Pope Francis and the Rohingya crisis: what's to come?

During the first week of December, Pope Francis will pass through Bangladesh where he will meet with local authorities and members of the displaced Rohingya community

Pope Francis and the Rohingya crisis: what's to come?

Leer en Español: Francisco en medio de la crisis Rohingya

Between the 27th of November and the 2nd of December, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking to ensure his international role as peace messenger and builder. Although Jorge Bergoglio has less relevance in these countries, due to their Buddhist and Muslim majority, the figure of the Pope has acquired an extremely political tone throughout the current humanitarian crisis.

The Pope’s visit has been organized during a time of tension;  it was, allegedly, asked by the first Burmese cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, to Pope Francis to refrain from mentioning the Rohingya people by name during his visit to the country. Said request was ignored by the leader of the Catholic church given that on December 1st, Pope Francis referred to Myanmar's persecuted Muslim minority by name during his Asia tour. 

Contrary to his visit to Colombia, South America a few months ago, the Holy Father was received by a small group of followers on Monday, November 27th in the city of Rangoon where he was scheduled to take a domestic flight to the current capital of the country, Naypyidaw, to meet with members of government. The small airport reception is due to the fact that, in a country of immense Buddhist majority, the Christian community of Myanmar is only of 6.2%, and only a fifth belongs to the Catholic church (around 650,000 individuals).

The meeting between the Pope and Cardinal Maung Bo laid the foundation for the unexpected appointment of the Holy Father with the military leader Min Aung Hlaing, accused of leading the persecution against the Rohingya people from which more than 700,000 Muslims have been displaced to the neighboring city of Bangladesh.

Upon his arrival in Myanmar on Monday, November 27th, Pope Francis agreed to meet with the general and other military leaders also considered responsible for executing the repression against the ethnic minority. The 15 minutes meeting, held behind closed doors, gave the Supreme Pontiff the opportunity to exhort Min Aung Hlaing's responsibility during the country's political transition, while the latter took the opportunity to deny the existence of religious discrimination in Myanmar.

Jorge Bergoglio has met during the following days the spiritual authorities of the country and the State Counselor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. In an event open to the public, which also involved civil society and the diplomatic entities present in Myanmar, Pope Francis has called for the respect for every person and community in the interest of peace building. His diplomatic behavior has changed the attitude of the international discourse by lowering the tone after the United Nations spoke of a first level emergency and an "ethnic cleansing of manual".

After days of waiting, the Holy Father has avoided confrontation with the Burmese government and the religious authorities of the country by not mentioning by name the Rohingya community. However, during his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Supreme Pontiff has declared that "religious differences should not be a source of division and distrust, but rather an impulse for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and a wise construction of the nation", making a reference to the minority in question.

It is worth mentioning that the international criticism against Aung San Suu Kyi and her government continue due to her silence in the face of the Rohingya crisis. The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has shown she has no control over the military forces present in the country, as she has not condemned  the attacks against the Rohingya community in Myanmar.

During the first week of December, Pope Francis will pass through Bangladesh where he will meet with local authorities and members of the displaced Rohingya community; he will seek to accelerate the dialogue between the two nations to solve the current humanitarian and migratory crisis.


Latin American Post | Laura Delgado

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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